Hardy's Wessex

The landscapes that inspired a writer

Poole Museum

Coastal Wessex - love and war

Experience the romance and excitement of the coastline which inspired Thomas Hardy’s writing. This exhibition explores the coastal themes in Hardy’s life – from first meeting his wife Emma on the wild cliffs of Cornwall, to his fascination with the Napoleonic wars.

See the difference between Hardy’s romanticised views of love and war in his early life, to his portrayal of the realities of both in his later writings.

Star loan object at Poole Museum

On loan from: The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

An oil painting by Constable in 1816, Weymouth Bay depicts Weymouth Beach as it would have looked in the time of Hardy’s Napoleonic love story The Trumpet-Major. The eye is drawn to the central couple walking along the beach, whom we can imagine to be lovers in Hardy’s novels or John Constable and his wife on honeymoon. 

In the exhibition, the painting will set the scene as visitors look at Hardy’s The Trumpet-Major research book as well as Napoleonic swords, epaulettes and a curious prisoner-of-war carved bone guillotine.

Our star loans were made possible by support from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund.

Weymouth Bay by John Constable


Oil painting Weymouth Bay
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Image number: 2014ha9997

Romance versus reality

Hardy was a man conflicted. While he wanted to believe in the romance of love and war, objects like the letter telling him of his cousin’s death at Gallipoli and malicious gossip written about his first marriage show that romance and reality were often different.

Explore these questions:

  • How did Hardy’s legacy influence the young First World War poets, like Siegfried Sassoon and Edmund Blunden?
  • Did Hardy’s own love life reflect that of his characters?
  • Was Hardy a conscientious objector?

Highlights for visitors

  • Hardy’s handwritten notebook for his novel, The Trumpet-Major, compete with scribbles and sketches.  Set in the Napoleonic war, the novel is a romantic love triangle between soldier John Loveday, his sailor brother Bob Loveday and Anne Garland.
  • His epic three-volume poem, The Dynasts, inspired some of the greatest war poets of the next generation.
  • The Tribute Book presented to Hardy by Siegfried Sassoon, representing 43 of the greatest writers of the age, including Rudyard Kipling, Walter de la Mare and Robert Graves. It acknowledged the influence Hardy had had on their writing.
Page of a notebook with handwriting by Emma Hardy
Emma Hardy's notebook, where she describes
her first meeting with her future husband: "I was
immediately arrested by his familiar appearance
as if I had seen him in a dream".
Notebook with Hardy's handwriting and sketches
Hardy's notebook for The Trumpet-Major.

Planning your visit

For details of opening times, admission prices, facilities, directions, etc, please visit Poole Museum’s website.

We are hugely grateful to Battens Solicitors for sponsoring this exhibition. 

Our star loans were made possible by support from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund

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